Awesome Day #7 — Meeting With the Mentor

by Lucas Graciano for the Lord of the Rings card game

Yow!!!  Yesterday (on day #7 of my 8 day ‘stay-cation’) I had arranged to meet well-known and respected writer.  I’ve never really gotten to talk to anyone on that level before, and by contacting them, I had brought myself into this whole new range of experience.

I had been quite nervous before our meeting for coffee.  Luckily I didn’t need anything from them, I was just happy for the time together.  And that went surprisingly well.  Except for violently knocking the table when I sat down (and spilling their drink everywhere), I’d didn’t embarrass myself.  I listened politely, answered questions about myself, my family, and the Athens Writers Association that I’d founded, and after an hour we parted on friendly terms.

‘That was easy’, I thought.

It was after that the trouble started.  I was driving to a nearby Publix to pick up ice cream for my sister.  And I found myself starting to cry.  I pulled it together for the ice cream but then bawled just about all the way back to Athens.

Why? you ask?  Well, I’ve thought about it.  Obviously some of it could have just been released after having been nervous, but I did feel strange, Hero’s Journey, strange.  I felt like my blood had been drained away and replaced by some mystical liquid.  I felt altered.  I was not at all comforted by this Mentor.  They’d talked about hardship and long odds, and the struggle even after ‘breaking through’.  I felt like I’ve been climbing mountains for years, trying to become a better writer, and this Mentor showed me a near-sheer cliff and said ‘That’s the only way’.  It was a deep challenge and it nearly broke my heart to look at it.

I remembered a very different Meeting with a Mentor more than ten years back: at a writing conference, I paid to have Patrick LoBrutto look at my first few pages and talk with me for about fifteen minutes.  It was one of the highlights of my young writing life.  Pat was friendly, excited about storytelling, and gentle with a new writer, both telling me it needed work and mentioning a scene he thought was quite good. ‘Quite good!’ — this from the man who worked with sci-fi gods as an editor for Tor.  I think I love him to this day.

But . . .  That was the Mentor I needed then and this was the Mentor I needed now.  I’ve decided part of what upset me about seeing the sheer cliff, that high bar, was that I thought I’d already come a long way.  And I have.  I haven’t had too many chances to be around more experienced writers than I, and especially not world-renowned ones.  I’ve been writing for 16 years and in the groups I frequent, I get a lot of people who look up to me.  I had to realise that instead of being Master of the Baby Lengues, I was now Baby of the Big Leagues.  By reaching out, by starting the Athens Writers Association, by working hard, I had climbed so far and had now passed through the mist, and met this man, and seen the next mountain.  And it’s a doozy.

But it leads exactly where I want to go, and (after all the tears of vexation have dried) I’m grateful for the help and advice, the warnings, and the chance to meet someone truly great.  Some Mentors are cuddly and their advice tastes more like lembras bread than medicine, and then others are a sear-the-flesh-from-your-bones force of nature that arrive to warn you that you’ve passed over the threshold into the dangerous land of elite heroes.

But they know if they can’t dissuade you, if you still choose to pick your shield and move forward, you will stronger than you’ve ever been before.

Quote from renowned author — “I didn’t get great by being patted on the back; I became great by getting my butt kicked every day.”

Spoken like a true Mentor.

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How to Start Living the Life of Your Dreams Today

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This is about to be a huge cop out because the answer to the question above is to remove the first two words from the title of this piece — there’s your answer.  But hopefully my explanation will be more satisfying.

There’s a lot of dithering, planning, dreaming, whiteboard and index card use, and fantasizing that goes into planning the life of your dreams.  And that can be good, but even better is the day you take action.  And the best kind of action (to me) is just acting like you’re already living the life of your dreams.

It’s easy to get fixated on the crack, crevice, Grand Canyon-sized hole between where you are and where you want to be.  But when you jump, you don’t look at what you’re jumping over, you look at where you want to land.

For myself, it’s hard to believe that a little over a year ago I had published no books (now I have two), there was no Athens Writers Association (which I founded) and all my dreams of being a professional writer felt like wispy clouds on a distant horizon.  But today I feel like I’m on an express train zipping toward my destination.  How did I do it?  How does anyone?  Without further ado, here’s what I’ve learned so far —

10 Tips for Living the Life of Your Dreams

  1.  ‘Fake it till you make it.’  I use to dislike this idea, like somehow you were lying to the world.  Instead, I’ve come to see it as a powerful technique to re-train your brain to see you as a winner.  Instead of seeing yourself as out-of-shape and wanting to eat a donut, imagine yourself as your perfect weight — you feeling amazing in your body, you go for runs, and maybe donuts have lost some of their appeal.  See yourself as a winner making a choice rather than as a loser denying themselves a treat.  This also means you have to starting talking about yourself, your dreams, and your talents in positive terms.  You’re not lying to anyone — you’re just remembering that ‘I just published my first book, and I’m very excited!’ is as true as ’50 agents turned me down so I finally made up a copy and self published it.  I keep them in a box under my bed.’  You’re the hero of your own story, and you’re on a journey —  honor how awesome you are for even trying to make a big change.
  2. Start today.  No one expects perfect; in fact my current favorite saying is ‘Progress not perfection’.  Instead, see what you can do on this day that will echo in eternity.  I’m not kidding — a simple walk could be the start of a lifetime of health and fitness.  Picking up that guitar and playing for five minutes does get you closer to being a master.  No matter how small the action, do it.  But the trick is to see these actions as the beginning of long term habits, not as one-offs that should change everything.  But know this, when you make the time everything does start changing.
  3. Realize that even small actions can put you in elite company.  Now I am not saying you don’t have to work damn hard to get to the life of your dreams, but believe me, you would be shocked how little time it takes to become an inspiration to others.  Most people have un-achieved dreams and just seeing you eat right for a month, or write one book, or even get up on a stage for five minutes can make you someone who’s done what some others never will.  It’s a good feeling to inspire others — and you’ll find yourself inspired to ever-greater heights.
  4. “Say yes, and you’ll figure it out afterward.” — Tina Fey.  Just being willing to do something you are unsure about is a surefire way to start astounding yourself.  In the Athens Writers Association, there have been some big, even scary, ideas — like doing our first public reading or publishing an anthology — but that willingness to say “Yes, we can” translates into action and confidence.  People love solution-finders, and they tell others (including your dream-job boss) what bold, great things you are doing and how you were willing to put yourself out there and learn something new.
  5. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.   Truth is, the road to your dreams is scary, often unmarked, and filled with the sensation that you’re going the wrong way.  And that’s when you’re on the right path!  Everything you’ve been doing in your non-dream life is probably stuff that’s been working ‘okay’ for years, but as Jack Canfield says ‘Everything you want is on the other side of fear.’  If you’re serious about living the life of your dreams, be prepared to feel like an out-of-it, loser, miscreant for the next five to seven years.  Then all your dreams come true.  I think it’s a pretty good deal, but damn, it’s not going to be comfortable.
  6. Work hard.  Sorry, but that’s the price of admission.  You have to find something you love so much you’ll give untold hours, weeks, and years to it and still want to give more.  The great thing is, being willing to work hard is all it takes to separate you from the ordinary masses.  And trust me when I say you can work so hard and do great things.  You just need to break free of the feelings you learned in school or in that job you hate and recognize that working hard at something you love is already ingrained in you.  Just remember being a little kid building forts, chasing bugs all day, playing with your friends — back then play was hard work, and you loved every minute of it.  Reclaim your awesomeness.
  7. Let go of what others think. Their life path is not yours.  If you know you’re going in the right direction, then that’s all that matters.
  8. “Do good work and share it with people.” — Austin Kleon.  Part of the ‘living’ vs. ‘planning’ is being willing to share your work (and hopes and dreams) with the wider world.  Now, that doesn’t mean trusting your innermost secrets to the person who always poo-poos your every idea at work.  Dreams are precious things — find like-minded people and get excited.  Take a class, join a group, and then start putting your talents out into the world.
  9. Feel the momentum.  Writing a page a day can mean writing your first novel this year.  Losing a pound a week is losing 52 pounds by next spring.  Don’t worry about falling off or having a bad day, just look for forward progress week to week and month to month.  Using the weight loss analogy above, you could have 70 ‘off’ days between now and next May and you’d still lose 40 pounds.  You could fall off for two months and still come out of the year an amazing champion.   Now you want to be on track as much as possible, but know that keeping going, not being flawless, is the secret to success.
  10. Power though.  When I was writing my nonfiction book last fall, I would sometimes feel tired, out-of-sorts, and like I might not be doing my best work.  But I keep pushing forward — edit if I was too tired to write, work on a cover if I was too distracted to edit.  I looked at it like a football game: it’s great to have a long run and score a touchdown, but even if a play only gets you a few more yards down the field, you are still better off and closer to the goal.  And by the end of the year, magically, I had a real book I was proud of.  No one (not even me) could tell what I’d written when I ‘didn’t feel like it’, or what parts needing to be rewritten five times — in the end it was a great, unified piece.  But it would be easy to still be writing it, waiting for the perfect moment, letting myself off easy when I was tired or busy.

Just dedicate yourself to doing something you love, to achieving some great end, and then put in the time and hard work to make it happen.  Stop planning and start living today.

And . . .

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